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Northern Elephant Seal - Mirounga angustirostris
Photo by Evans

The largest of our seals, northern elephant seals have short, coarse brown or gray hair and a very thick layer of blubber for insulation from cold water. Males develop an elephant-like proboscis (snout) with age and can reach nearly 5,000 pounds, many times greater than the adult females. They are known for their long migrations between feeding and breeding grounds, and are able to dive to depths of 5,000 feet. Once a year they come ashore to molt, or shed their fur and first layer of skin. In between their molting and breeding season, northern elephant seals can remain at sea for six to eight months spending 86% of their time underwater. Their abundance and range is increasing along the California coast.

Northern Elephant Seal
(Mirounga angustirostris)

Pacific northeastern waters and coastal California, in Baja California, the north Channel Islands, at Ano Nuevo and San Simeon in Central California, and the Farallon Islands and Point Reyes in northern California

Open ocean, except for breeding and molting seasons when they prefer to haul out on sandy beaches

Fish, squid, eels, skates, rays, and sharks


The status of this species is representative of the populations within the waters of this Sanctuary only, not global populations.

Quick Fact
Elephant seals were nearly driven to extinction in the early 1900s. Due to legal protections, their numbers have rebounded and they are considered a conservation success story.

Learn More
- Seal Conservation Society
- The National Marine Mammal Laboratory
- University of Michigan Museum of Zoology